Let’s have more ‘A’ students going into entrepreneurship

Top 2020 KCSE Student Robinson Wanjala Simiyu celebrates with his father Pius Simiyu (left) and family members at their residence in Buruburu, Nairobi. May 10, 2021. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

In the next two weeks, both Standard Eight and Form Four candidates will sit for their final exams.

Their resilience amidst the Covid-19 pandemic is commendable.  

The government did a good job getting the school calendar year back on track after an almost entire year was lost due to the pandemic. This will translate into earnings forgone in future. 

Looking beyond the exams, the results are always celebrated, with top candidates outlining their career preferences.

Some want to be neurosurgeons, engineers, medical doctors or lawyers.

A few other professions are mentioned. During our time, we wanted to be pilots for boys and doctors or nurses for girls.  

Traditions and a bit of mystic dictate students’ career preferences. Prestigious professions are not that “public”.

We spend years in school studying law or medicine then use strange-sounding terms and symbols to awe the public.

Why do lawyers and judges wear robes and wigs, for instance?

We know what teachers do, but we rarely witness surgeons or engineers at work. Silently, students choose careers likely to give them money and prestige. As for passion, it is a different story altogether.   

But one profession is sadly often left out by many top students - entrepreneurship. The day our  “A” students will declare their ambition to become entrepreneurs is when our economy will be transformed, irreversibly.  

Top students in Kenya and Africa, should aim to become entrepreneurs, not employees. [Courtesy]

Let’s be blunt, starting an enterprise from scratch is nothing but a mark of genius.

You have to conceive the idea, sometimes from scratch, by deciding what product or service to offer to the market.

You also have to come up with ways of making it competitive, how to run and scale up your enterprise and navigate regulations and changing tastes.

Unlike engineering and law that have precedents, entrepreneurship rarely does, more like marriages. 

Think of starting Facebook or Walmart, Safaricom, Equity Bank or even a kiosk. There are no precedents; every firm is unique.

Yet, we leave such a complex task to students who did not perform well in school. It’s one of the strangest thinkings in Africa that entrepreneurship is for academic “failures”. 

This perception, more than lack of financing and government regulations, is Africa’s undoing when it comes to entrepreneurship and, by extension, economic growth.

The same thinking is found in politics where we think just anyone can lead the whole country or a county.  

We do that in education too where we leave those who can’t be neurosurgeons or engineers to become teachers and take care of the nation’s greatest asset - young brains. By the way, only those who take B.Ed as the first choice should be picked.  

Let’s peel off the layers of our thinking. Does it surprise you that the brains behind Facebook went to Harvard, while Google, Cisco and PayPal count Stanford as their alma mater?

Boeing, HP and Intel, on the other hand, were started by MIT graduates. Some of the founders of these firms went to one or more of these schools, while others dropped out at some point and never even graduated.  

To start and nurture these firms to grow into listed entities demands a lot of creativity and innovation, which is what is expected of “A” students who join prestigious universities.  

Without being derogatory, how do we expect students who struggle in class to start and nurture startups into global enterprises or transnational corporations?  

Some will quickly point out that the leading entrepreneurs are not that highly educated and few professors are entrepreneurs, including those who teach entrepreneurship.  

Let’s peel off the layers of our thinking. [Courtesy]

That is not paradoxical; we are brought up to seek “security” in permanent jobs, where we do as little as possible and get paid as much as possible. This is why acquiring more degrees or titles does not necessarily lead to more entrepreneurship, productivity or economic growth.  

The “A” students see the hustles of entrepreneurship as a nuisance and beneath them. Many entrepreneurs in Africa go into business out of necessity and not by choice.

This should not be the case. Does the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) factor this? Could we have more students becoming entrepreneurs by choice?

Shall our universities and schools become the fountains of entrepreneurship? Shall we elevate risk-taking into a sport like in other countries?  

Top students in Kenya and Africa, should aim to become entrepreneurs, not employees. This paradigm shift is difficult to achieve when grades are used as the basis of employment, leaving lower grade scorers to fend for themselves. We assume exams can differentiate students’ capability objectively.

That said, to all the candidates, all the best in our exams. I hope you will consider becoming an entrepreneur instead of only pursuing a profession.

Believe me, the fun of being your own boss, taking risks and making money every day instead of waiting for end month is satisfying and fulfilling. 

Why wait for years to become a CEO when you can become one overnight?